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In the tragic drama Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare in 1606 during the English Renaissance, the hero, Macbeth, constantly declines in his level of morality until his death at the end of the play. Because of his change of character from good to evil, Macbeth s attitude towards other characters, specifically Duncan, Banquo, Lady Macbeth, and the witches, is significantly affected.
The first of the four characters is Duncan. Since Macbeth interacts with Duncan only a minimal amount before Duncan s death, Macbeth s attitude towards him changes very rapidly. Before Macbeth hears the witches first prophecy, he is very close to Duncan, and would never even think of doing something against him. When the thought of murdering Duncan crosses his mind immediately after he finds that he has just been named Thane of Cawdor, he cannot believe he “yield[s] to that suggestion / Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair / And make my seated heart knock at my ribs” (I, iii, 133-35). In scene 5 of act 1, however, his “vaulting ambition” is starting to take over, but partly because of his wife s persuasion. He agrees that they must “catch the nearest way” (17), and kill Duncan that night. On the other hand, as the time for murder comes nearer, he begins giving himself reasons not to murder Duncan:
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself.
(I, vii, 13-16)
When Lady Macbeth enters, though, she uses her cunning rhetoric and persuasion techniques to convince Macbeth that this is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the right thing to do. He then tells her that “I am settled.” (79). He is firmly seated in his beliefs that killing Duncan is the right thing to do until he performs the murder. He is so horrified by this act that for a moment he forgets where he is or whom he is with. We learn from this murder that Macbeth truly had faith in the king and was very loyal, but under the forces of his wife s persuasion and his own vaulting ambition, he is put in the evil frame of mind for just long enough to kill Duncan. This murder does permanently alter him from his moral state of mind, however, and he soon does not feel much remorse for murdering Duncan.
The Second of the four characters towards whom Macbeth s attitude changes is Banquo. Before he murders Duncan, Macbeth is a very close friend to Banquo, and they are almost always together. After the murder, however, Macbeth senses suspicion on Banquo s part. He realizes that Banquo s “wisdom that doth guide his valour / To act in safety” (52-53) will cause Banquo to want to turn Macbeth in for his crime. Macbeth knows he must also get rid of Banquo since, according to the prophecy, the throne will pass to Banquo s sons otherwise. Macbeth starts showing his extreme hatred towards Banquo while he is convincing the two murderers that killing him is right:
Macb: Both of you
Know Banquo was your enemy.
Murderers: True, my lord.
Macb: So is he mine; and in such bloody distance
That every minute of his being thrusts
Against my near st of life;
(III, i, 114b-118)
Finally, Macbeth actually shows signs of relief when the murderer calls him to the door during his banquet and tells him of Banquo s death:
Macb: There s blood upon thy face.
Murderer: Tis Banquo s then.
Macb: Tis better thee without than he within.
(III, iv, 12-14)
Macbeth s last statement, “Tis . . . within”, means that Banquo s blood is better on the murderer than in Banquo, showing that Macbeth is, in truth, happy that Banquo has been killed. The killing of Banquo by Macbeth shows extreme selfishness; he cannot bear to see even his best friend s sons succeed him on the throne. However, a more important reason that Macbeth kills Banquo is because of Banquo s suspicion of him, and what Banquo will do to him once he finds out for sure that Macbeth has committed the murder of Duncan. One can see that Macbeth becomes extremely harsh if he wants his way. He will go to horrid extremes just so that he does not have to live his kingship in fear, but instead “to be safely thus.” (III, i, 49)
Lady Macbeth, the third character, interacts with Macbeth a considerable amount, and influences him greatly. He and his wife as a pair is dangerous because his ambition combined with her bloodlines can cause fatal situations. In Macbeth s letter to his wife, he calls her “my dearest partner of greatness” (I, v, 8), and later, when he is talking to her in person, he calls her “My dearest love” (I, v, 54b). Shakespeare shows their close relationship until they have started falling into a state of near-despair after the murder of Banquo and Macduff s wife and son. At this point, they have started to separate a great deal. In act five, scene five, Macbeth hears the “cry of women” and not even noticing that it is a woman s cry, let alone that of his own wife, asks “What is that noise?” (7b). He feels so little towards her that when he is informed that she has just died, he remarks that “She should have died hereafter” (17), meaning that she would have died anyway. His distraction and present state of mind cause his loss of feeling towards his wife most likely. Had his mind been calm and relaxed, not distracted by anything, he probably would have reacted to this news with more feeling. However, his whole personality has changed, and perhaps death does not faze him any more because he has committed five murders since the beginning of the play.
The way Macbeth acts toward the three witches changes significantly as the play progresses. In act one, scene five, Macbeth tells his wife in his letter to her that the witches “have more in them than mortal knowledge.” (2), and he puts great faith in their prophecies; after all, of the witches three so-called “prophecies”, “Two truths are told” (I, iii, 126b). He depends on the witches for a long time, even after he murders Banquo. In act 3, scene 4, when he remarks that “I am in blood / Stepp d in so far that, should I wade no more,” (136-37), he knows that he must consult the witches again because “More shall they speak;” (134), and he is “bent to know” (134) what he should do and what his future holds. He then sees the three apparitions that the witches have conjured up especially to torture him. This causes him to become enraged at the witches and damn himself in the ironic phrase in which he damns “all those that trust them”, (IV, i, 139, “them” meaning the witches. Macbeth s change in attitude towards the witches shows that his nature is to befriend those who bring him good news, but he separates from them once he finds that even though he trusted them, what they said was not in his favor. He supposedly befriended the witches simply because he thought they could tell him his future. It was a false relationship.
Macbeth starts out a heroic man of good doings, but his whole attitude completely changes because of the murders he commits. His relationships with many characters are broken or become weak. He starts trusting no one and hating – or killing – everyone. His wife may have started him on his killing streak, but he was the one to finish himself off. Macbeth got what he deserved.